Guidance on Self-Study
The meaning of the word svadhyaya is self-study. It is the study of the self and also studying by one’s self. Self-study refers to the spiritual, contemplative and the analytical study about Divinity*. Of course we all have a spark of divinity in us, so self-study includes looking at the divine or spiritual aspects of being human!
Self-study has been very neglected in modern times, although there has been a resurgence of this important activity with the onset of the New Age, mainly in the past decade. We need to know what it is that causes us to behave in the ways that we do.
It is essential to know what it is that provides us with mental energy and stamina to tackle all the problems in our lives, which arise naturally as a matter of course. We are here on this earth to learn. We need to watch how we learn. We need to watch the progress, or lack of it, and understand why these things should be. Those things that make us happy and harmonious, what are they? Do they apply to other people? How can we help others to achieve their spiritual aims? How can we develop our own soul's interest and follow our chosen path? Do we know what our chosen path is?
Young people often have a great deal of pressure put upon them to perform well in every exam they take. Each teacher wants his students to do well in his favorite subject. Schools want to get as many ‘exam passes’ as possible. It can be difficult for young people to choose the best priorities for themselves as individuals. The fact is we will not be happy in life if we choose subjects we hate as a career path. If we hate maths then we will not be happy as an accountant. Many young people seem to choose careers which promise to pay well, but which do not appeal to them for any other reason, then wonder why they are very unsatisfied in later life. Listen to your heart and stand your ground. We all have our own gifts and leanings. Not all of them lead to great riches, but there are plenty of miserable rich people around. Talk to adults whom you like and respect and who know you well, if you are uncertain about which way to go. Get several opinions if you can. Think about what you enjoy doing in your free time. Are you creative? We are all creative in some way or other. We may enjoy creating pictures, stories, decorating our surroundings, writing songs or poetry, growing plants, digging trenches and building walls, making computer websites. We may enjoy talking to people and encouraging them in their creativity. Think about what excites and enthuses you.
There are plenty of people around who want to keep the lid on other people’s enthusiasm. They may be the religious fanatics who think that God gave us all the exciting things in the world to tempt us, then if we give in to temptation he punishes us! The puritans banned dancing. Some Middle Eastern religions ban works of art, which depict living things. Singing is banned by some. In some places in the U.K. they used to lock up the swings in the parks on Sundays in the 1950s and 60s, because having fun was not considered to be a suitable activity for a Sunday! Fortunately our society has moved away from such foolishness, but some would say it has gone too far in the other direction. A middle way is best. Being ‘good’ and obeying people who want to squeeze all the fun out of life will not bring happiness in the end. Look at those people, are they happy? Do they laugh, joke, love, care and enjoy their own lives? Enjoy life’s gifts, but not at the expense of your health, your career, or other people’s happiness.
How can we keep our bodies healthy and our minds clear? How can we get over the traumas of life without carrying them around with us as great burdens weighing us down? These are all aspects to be considered. Times of reflection are needed each day if possible. Times for meditation for those who can meditate, or simply time to sit quietly and go over the events of the day, or the week, and put them into perspective.
We may choose to learn from a teacher or a group of like-minded people, or we can learn from our own experiences.
If we fill our heads with constant background noise, always talking or listening to talk, or listening to the radio, the television or to music, we are not giving ourselves this essential reflective time. Peace and quiet are a necessary requirement for sanity and for our soul's development. We need to make that space in our day to have the time needed for self-study.